COVID-19: Toronto Blue Jays receive federal government approval to return to Canada

The Toronto Blue Jays have received permission from the federal government to return to Canada for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Jays’ first home game at Rogers Centre will happen on July 30 and it will be the first of a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals.

In a statement released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino, he said the government gave its approval for a National Interest Exemption for the team to operate in the country amid lingering pandemic restrictions.

“This decision was made in conjunction with the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the approval of provincial and municipal public health officials,” he wrote.

Read more: Ontario asks feds to open border for Toronto Blue Jays

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“We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation around the world and base our decisions on science, the best data available and the advice of public health officials.”

The statement said a plan submitted by the team included “significant” COVID-19-related protection measures, including pre- and post-arrival testing.

For unvaccinated team members, they will need to submit to extra COVID-19 testing and they will have to abide by a “modified” quarantine restricting them to their team’s hotel and no interaction with members of the public will be allowed.

The Jays and visiting teams will have a designated compliance officer who will be monitoring for potential breaches of the plan.

Read more: Indoor dining and gyms, larger gatherings now allowed as Ontario enters Step 3 of reopening plan

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“Anyone who breaches these stringent conditions will have their exemptions revoked and may also be subject to fines or prosecution under the Quarantine Act,” the statement said.

The Canadian government hadn’t allowed the team to play at its 49,000-seat downtown Toronto stadium because of the risk of spreading COVID-19, citing frequent travel required in the U.S. during a baseball season.

Ontario Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Minister Lisa MacLeod wrote to the federal government to convey provincial support for the team’s return to Toronto.

Under Step 3 of the Ontario government’s reopening plan, which came into effect on Friday, up to 15,000 spectators or 75 per cent of the usual seating capacity are allowed at outdoor sports facilities (whichever is less).

READ MORE: Toronto FC to become first pro sports team in city to welcome fans after move into Step 3

The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo, N.Y., and started this season in Dunedin, Fla., before returning to Buffalo.

The announcement came days after Toronto FC announced it would be returning to Canada for its first home game on Saturday. The team is facing off against the Orlando City SC.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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